August 2, 2007

Betting Against America

James Clyburn of South Carolina is the Democrats’ third-in-charge in the House of Representatives – his job is “Whip,” meaning that it’s up to him to distribute the “party line” on particular issues that come up to vote and to get as many Democrats as possible to adhere to the party’s position on an issue.  He worries, though, that if the report due in just over a month from the theater commander in Iraq is positive in tone and provides demonstrable proof that the surge in U.S. troops in Iraq is actually doing some good, this will split a significant number of Democrats from the party’s majority and block efforts to establish a solid timetable for the withdrawal of those troops. 


In an unfortunate bit of wording, Congressman Clyburn said to the Washington Post that a positive report from General Patraeus “… would be a problem for us.”  This phrasing sure makes the Democrats look like they’re betting on America to lose.  I sincerely hope that most Democrats don’t actually feel that way – but if the evidence demonstrates that “the surge” really is working, how will advocates of an immediate withdrawal of troops react? 


Will the most strident “pull-out-now” advocates say (as I am preparing myself to do) that their initial misgivings about this strategy were not well-founded and that indeed, things are getting better over there?  An admission of being wrong in the past is not good for politics, and a lot of politicians have painted themselves into a corner.  I’d hate to think that they are more concerned about saving face than they are about getting something good out of this war at last.  If you’re going to say “I hope the surge works but I don’t think it will,” that’s fine – as long as, if it does turn out other than you expected, you be honest enough to say so.


You can still argue for a timed drawdown even if we’re having success.  Yes, the “we’re bound to fail” argument falls by the wayside, but the “we have other theaters of operation that need attention” argument does not.  Neither does “it’s time for the Iraqis to start doing the job themselves.”  And most importantly, you don’t lose the ability to look a soldier in the eye and say, with sincerity, “Good job.”  Congressman Clyburn, by publicly regretting success, has come close to that point.

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